Dr. James Hollis is a psychologist who specializes in many areas, including mythology and defining one's self in midlife. The Jungian analyst and MFT that I was seeing a few years ago suggested Dr. Hollis's audiobook Through the Dark Wood: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. I found that much of it resonated with me, especially his insights on dream life, Jung's writings, and defining the Self.
As a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Dr. Hollis has been a serious student of Jung's writings for many decades, and I recently read an interview with him that was published in Science 2.0. Dr. Hollis brought up many important facts about Carl Jung that are often be overlooked by some members of the scientific community.
Jung considered himself an empiricist. According to Hollis, "Jung had worked on 67,000 dreams before he wrote a single paragraph on dream interpretation. By that time, he had something to say about how they work, how we might approach them, and what role they might be playing in our adaptive life journey." Hollis went on to explain that dreams are "manifestations of awareness that are compensatory to the limited purview of conscious life. To ignore such extra-conscious forms of cognition is not to be empirical or really conscious."
Today, Jung often ends up marginalized and all but left out of psychology textbooks and classrooms because in a world that values clear labels, Jung is hard to categorize. This is in a large part due to the fact that he chose to take seriously all experiences and phenomena (alchemy, UFOs, etc.) that his clients reported and to seek out why such symbols, concepts or experiences regularly occur. As Hollis put it, "He was not speculating on the 'reality' of flying saucers; he was asking how and why people throughout the ages would have such experiences."
I believe we have a lot to learn from modern science and dream studies, and yet many of these studies (see previous blog post for some examples) are also consistent with the theories and writings of early psychologists like Jung. So let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is something to learn from the great teachers of the past, present, and future – things that have not become obsolete with a new age or generation.
I recently read an article in Scientific American (and the research that it linked to) entitled "The Science Behind Dreaming." It cited three different studies on brain activity and dreaming: one on why individuals are most likely to remember dreams when woken up after a REM cycle, one on the correlation between brain activity during dreaming and the role of brain structures (namely the amygdala and hippocampus), and one on the connection between dreams and complex emotions.
The article concluded as follows: "Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active. This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety." This concept is fascinating to me – the idea that dreams create memories and serve the purpose of processing complex emotions that we are experiencing.
There are many situations and reasons why a person may not even be cognizant of the fact that they are experiencing certain emotions during the day. These can include the fast pace of life that keeps us preoccupied, ways we distract ourselves (entertainment, social media, drinking, drug use, shopping, socializing, etc.), being repressed or in denial about our true feelings, or pushing emotions aside when they arise because they are too painful, complicated, or inconvenient to deal with. With this ever-expanding list in mind, its no wonder that our brains are working overtime to process emotions and situations that we have not sorted through during waking life.
Have your dreams ever brought emotions to the forefront that you were not formerly aware of (or fully aware of)? Has this helped you process any negative emotions? Do emotions feel amplified in your dreams? Is this sometimes unsettling to you? All stories are welcome. May your dreams help you effectively process your emotions!
In my last post, I mentioned that my earliest dreams were nightmares, but that once I was willing to move past my own ego and be open to expansion and change, my dreams became guides that led me to the next stage of my own development. This is what Carl Jung describes as the process of individuation (forthcoming post).
According to Jung in his work The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, individuation is a universal process that seeks to synthesize the conscious and unconscious realms within the Self (164). It generally includes five major stages, and in Jung’s observations and experience, “every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering” (Psychology and Religion 272). These five stages include confrontation with the persona in the first stage, the ego in the second stage, the shadow in the third stage, the anima in the fourth stage, and the Self in the fifth stage (Rowan 144).
I feel like much of my shadow work took place early in life and continued into adulthood. And it felt like "suffering," as Jung described it. A spiritually-minded friend remarked that my dreamworld must have been accessing and working out major identity and purpose questions within the astral plain from the time of my youth (forthcoming post). I did not initially understand what she meant, but now it makes much more sense to me.
The dreamworld is really an alternative unconscious state. Within it we can access other people, places, realms, and parts of ourselves. We can confront our fears and experience our joys on a level that most people do not find possible in conscious waking life. Dreaming allows us to transcend the boundaries that we typically experience in life on earth. And although at times, it may seem heavy or formidable, it is truly a blessing designed to further our understanding and progress as an individual. As Aristotle put it so long ago, "We cannot learn without pain" (Politica, Book 8, Part 5).
Have you had dreams that have helped you work through a challenging or bleak time in your life? Do you feel like you've confronted shadow figures or dark aspects of yourself or others in your dreams? How did that make you feel, and were you then able to change or be aware of these aspects in waking life? I am always excited to hear your thoughts. May your dreams guide you!
Aristotle. The Politics of Aristotle. Trans. B. Jowett. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885. Online Library of Liberty. Web. 6 July 2017.
Jung, Carl J. Psychology and Religion: West and East. Ed. and Trans. Gerhard Adler and R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1975. Google Books. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
---. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1959. Print.
Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. London: Routledge, 1990. Print.
In Man and His Symbols, Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz describes how the first approach of the unconscious takes place in a child's earliest dreams. Childhood dreams do not necessarily become one's fate, but they do play a major role in determining how an individual will view the world and her/himself. These early dreams may also elucidate some of the challenges that an individual will face and provide early insights and wisdom.
"For most people the years of youth are characterized by a state of gradual awakening in which the individual slowly becomes aware of the world and of himself. Childhood is a period of great emotional intensity, and a child's earliest dreams often manifest in symbolic form the basic structure of the psyche, indicating how it will later shape the destiny of the individual concerned" (168).
The vast majority of my childhood dreams, as well as my early adulthood dreams, were nightmares. I remember being worried that I was cursed and had a fixed fate that seemed ominous and depressing. However, the more I became open to letting go of my own ego and being willing to expand and change, the more I discovered that my dreams were beneficent teachers meant to help me purge old confining ways of thinking.
What are your earliest childhood dreams? Do you remember having questions about life or yourself because of an early dream? Did you feel that your earliest dreams corresponded with your waking life at the time? I am interested in hearing stories from anyone who feels open to sharing. May your early dreams still guide you!
von Franz, M.-L. “The Process of Individuation.” Man and His Symbols. Ed. Carl G. Jung. New York: Dell, 1964. 157-254. Print.